Eph. 1:7-12 Predestined.

We are “accepted in the Beloved,” because “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus died a martyr to be sure, but the real purpose of his suffering and death was that all those whom the Father had given Him would redeemed and forgiven. This was and is “according to the riches of His grace.” As His we are rich. This plan was and is done “in all wisdom and prudence.” It is far more than just an emotional experience, but this and much more besides is rooted in His wisdom and understanding, “having made known to us the mystery of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace.” It is God alone who authored this plan, and part of this is in the knowing that it is entirely “according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself.” This purpose originated in the mind of God alone.

“That in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth – in Him.” History is indispensable to the Christian faith, and as Paul has been stressing throughout, it is a story written by the sovereign predestinating purpose of the Father. All the particulars of history come to fulfillment in and through His Son. In Him also, heaven and earth are brought together in harmony – the many in the One. “In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will.” We are also predestined to an inheritance. There is much more to come, all because Jesus has become our brother. Paul and his contemporaries were just the beginning of those who are predestined to trust ‘in Christ’, “to the praise of His glory.”

Eph. 1:1-6. Grace and Peace. 

Peace only comes through grace, and saints are those are also faithful. In Christ alone there are blessings for those chosen by the Father in him, before the world began, with the goal “that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.” Not everyone is a redeemed, that is, adopted child of God. Those who are adopted show it by being ever more holy and without blame before him in love.” The motivation is love, not self-righteousness. We love Him, because He first loved us (I Jn. 4:19). The human scriptural authors agree. It is all based upon “the good pleasure of His will.” This is a sure comfort to the saints, because we know that God only acts according to His character and His word. Again, it is “to the praise of the glory of His grace.” Therefore, we are “accepted in the Beloved.”

Phil. 1:12-18. What motivates us?

There is something fearful about Paul’s words in Phil. 1:15-18. He thanked God for providence placing him in chains (vv. 12-14), because some gained the boldness they needed to speak the word. However, there were also those who preached, as he said, “from envy, strife, and…selfish ambition,” but he rejoiced that, “whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached.” So, these preachers were all preaching Christ. He does not take issue with his opponent’s doctrine per se, but with their motives. This naturally leads to the question, were these true believers or not, and if the former, what does this say to us about what motivates some people to preach, and what motivates us? It is hard to fake sincerity. Clearly some wanted the spotlight, so their goal was to keep Paul in chains for as long as possible, and perhaps they thought that he might also get discouraged. However, as Paul made clear in vv. 12-14, his antidote was his firm belief in the sovereignty of God displayed in his providence. This is the other lesson to learn here. Put it all together and our attitude is a simple one in theory – don’t be moved by the impure motives of some, but place all your confidence in the one whom you preach. Let this be our practice. 

Jeremiah’s Call and Ours.

Jeremiah was born into a priestly family but was called to be a prophet. Whereas the former and kingship were hereditary offices, that of the prophet was not. Although their unique characters are formed by God and are reflected in their respective writings, the truth conveyed was also of God. Judah had been given more years of liberty than Israel because Josiah was used of God to restore the nation back to the law word of the covenant, which when they departed from it they went into captivity to Babylon. His ordination came before he was born, and therefore he was born with a godly purpose. Though relatively young when his preaching began, he would be called to preach to all levels of society, both within the covenanted people, and those outside. 

He was set apart for the work of preaching and writing only that which the LORD had given him. Concerning several nations and kingdoms, he would convey that God would take away both food and shelter, but also for a remnant he would build and plant – ie., shelter and food (1:1-10). We also cannot miss the fact that he called Jeremiah before he was born, so from his very conception he was formed by God in the womb (1:5). The LORD authors the salvation and ministry of all his people before we are born, and the remnant are those who proclaim and live out their calling in the whole of life, before one and all. Before there is true reform, that which is in the way must be uprooted and torn down. It to is part of the word that first must be preached.

Psalm 139:2-4

“You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.” Others may forget us, but the LORD’s knowledge of us is a moment by moment affair. Whether at rest or in motion we are in a constant state of being known. Job asked the rhetorical question – “Does not he see my ways and number all my steps?” (31:4) Jesus has the very same knowledge (Jn. 2:23-5). It is why he told Nicodemus that he must be born again (Jn. 3).

However, It is more than just a recognition of our sinful condition and need of regeneration. It also speaks to his daily involvement in our lives. Our path, our lying down, and all our ways matter to him. We are familiar to him, and he also knows our end. He has a discerning eye on us, and a discerning mind. The one who gave humans the gift of speech knows our words before we speak them. Thoughts, ways, rest and leisure – we are thoroughly known.

Psalm 139:1 

Psalm 139 is a study of God’s all-knowing presence. “O LORD, you have searched me and known me.” (v.1) I am thankful that the ESV has preserved the practice of using all capitals when the scriptures refer to the LORD of the covenant (Dt. 7:6-11). Nowhere in the psalm does David use the common word for God – Elohim. The name also means “I AM that I AM” the eternal one, the one who spoke to Moses from the burning bush. In this name we therefore have both his immanence and his transcendence. The name was used in Genesis, but as Young pointed out, not with the significance it received with the gradual unfolding of the canonical revelation of his redemptive work and judgement in history – see Exodus 3 and 6.

O. Palmer Robertson is still, in my mind, the one who best described the covenant as “a bond in blood sovereignly administered.” (See ‘The Christ of the Covenants’). Young also got to the core of the one covenant of grace. “The essence of the covenant which He made with them was that they were to be God’s people and in turn He would be their God.” (‘Psalm 139’, 12) It is also the name that emphasizes the corporate nature of the LORD’s congregation or church throughout the ages. It was a fuller revelation which came to them in the midst of their bondage, which is a big part as to why the church today misses these deep truths – we have forgotten the bondage that we have been delivered from.

When we confess that the LORD is our LORD we unite with this history as our own. To address God as LORD is a gift, a privilege of grace. Only those who are in a covenant relationship with the LORD can expect to have their prayers heard in mercy and grace. We seem to think that God needs and invitation to conduct this examination, so like Adam and Eve we will just hide and maybe he will go away. It is a fearful thing if he should go away. David confesses a reality that he comes to by grace. Being in the past tense, it is not a stretch to see these words as a confession of repentance – he couldn’t run or walk away from his past like his forbearers also tried to do.

We should be thankful that the LORD conducts this deep search, even of things we hoped to forget, because only such a full knowledge of who we really are, and all we have done, can offer us that shalom or peace that surpasses all understanding. We can forgive ourselves even of those things forgotten, because we have the word of our covenant LORD that as far as the east is from the west, so far are our sins from us (Ps. 103:12). There is only one way to truly know God, and that is to be known by him (I Jn. 4:10). Many religions purport to search for the divine, but there is only one that knows that he must search out us, that to know him is first to be known by him – fully.

Jesus, Judas and the Passover/Lord’s Supper.

Most Christians are aware that the name Jesus means Joshua because he will save his people from their sins (Mt. 1:21). More properly the Christ, Messiah, or Anointed one than a ‘last’ name. Judas is the Greek of the Hebrew Judah – meaning praise, yes, but more (see https://www.ancient-hebrew.org/names/Judas.htm). I imagine a conductor at a theatre, and God is the puppet-Master (Mt. 26:24; Mk. 14:21; Lk. 22:22; Cf. Lk. 17:1-2; I Cor. 15:3), but that is a subject requiring further explanation elsewhere.

“According to the scriptures,” is what we are after – yes (I Cor. 15:4)? Peter adds his part (Acts 2:14-39). Cain, of Judas’s clan, was a man who acquired a wealthy city (Cain-Enoch cf. Gen. 4:16-17), Esau, of his clan would carry on this kind of city building, while his brother was a real heel-raising deceiver (Gen. 25:19-28), and they would be spoken of later (Rom 9-11). Iscariot means ‘man of Kerioth’, which in turn means city. Thus we have at least a double witness – https://www.abarim-publications.com/Meaning/Kerioth.html

This brings us to the Passover/Lord’s supper, and why the two are treated as a type of synonyms. Many fail to respect the context of the so-called ‘LORD’s Supper’, because they don’t read the bible the way God asks us to read it. Jesus made clear, in no uncertain terms, that he was celebrating the Passover in the well-known passages (Mt. 26:17-30; Mk. 14:12-26; Lk. 22:7-23; I Cor. 5:6-8, 11: 17-34 cf. Ex. 12:1-27). The ‘this’ of “do this” is in the context of the Passover, and here Jesus gives a defence of covenantal continuity.

The Passover was not ‘abrogated’, rather it was ‘fulfilled’ (cf. Mt. 5:17-20). Therefore, did Jesus partake of the feast of unleavened bread, the Passover/LORD’s Supper? – yes, for the last time on earth – “I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.” (Mt. 26: 18) “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat.” (Lk. 22: 8). ‘The Teacher says, “Where is the guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples?”’ (Mk. 14:14) Can you claim to follow only what God commands in worship, and ignore this one?

What about Judas? Again, look to the context. It was necessary that he be there, and drink and eat, for his betrayal would be a covenantal betrayal (Mt. 26:1-16; Mk. 14:11-11; Lk. 22:1-6). “He who dipped his hand with Me in the dish will betray Me” (Mt. 26:23 cf. Mk. 14:20 cf. Ps. 41:9). “Behold, the hand of the betrayer is with Me on the table,” (Lk. 22:21), it was predestined of him (22). He was born to it (Mt. 26:24). “Then Judas, who was betraying Him, answered and said, ‘Rabbi, is it I?’ He said to him, ‘You have said it.’” (25)

The above doesn’t mean it shouldn’t ‘trouble’us. It troubled Jesus (Jn.13:21). Reprobation is ‘stake and potatoes’, fit only for those experienced in handling the word. It troubles me. However, my criteria for biblical exegesis has never been how I feel, or how disturbed I may be within. With Paul, and Calvin, I approach the above topic and now conclude with the former’s words, given to him by the Spirit – “I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart.” (Rom. 9:2) It is what follows that I still struggle with immensely (3).

John Calvin On Prayer


John Calvin (1509-1564) is mostly known for his theology, or for those who hate his theology, there is often an overemphasis on the execution of Servetus, as though Calvin should be the only fallen man who must be perfect. It is too often a cheap hypocritical excuse to not deal with the truth of Calvin’s doctrine. It is on such matters where one sees the importance of taking an historical perspective. When one does so, it is remarkable that this is the only glaring example of inconsistency. No one knew more than Calvin that he was far from perfect, an attitude which he brought to the activity of prayer. Calvin’s doctrine of total depravity stemmed as much from his own self-examination, as from what he observed, but most importantly how he understood the teaching of scripture. It has also been the goal of this writer to see Calvin’s teaching on prayer in the historical context of his time, reflecting on his agreements and disagreements with those who came before him, and as a polemic against the supposed errors of Rome.

Historical Context

There are many who want to look upon prayer and the devotional disciplines in the same way they view religion from an historical perspective, namely to come up with a generic understanding of prayer that will reflect the activity of humans generally. This is not something that Calvin would espouse. Calvin often referred to mystics, philosophers, and theologians who came before him, whether in agreement with some point but more often as a polemic against. Prayer and devotion was in fact a common point of philosophical discussion. Calvin’s first written work was a commentary on the stoic Seneca, who was not alone in criticizing prayer as the “babble that God’s providence, standing guard over all things is vainly importuned with entreaties.” (Inst. XX. 3. 853)

On the other hand, he often concurred with the church fathers, most notably Augustine, that prayer was simple conversation, albeit with reverence for the majesty of God Almighty, but also our Father. Jesus’ example of prayer begins by addressing God as Father (Mt. 6 Lk. 12), because in union with Christ we enjoy a familial relationship. It is also why Christ drew a comparison to the mercy and goodness exercised by earthy fathers, and how much more so with the perfection of the Father (Ibid., 853 ft. 6) Contrary to Seneca, and some calling themselves ‘Christian’, Calvin believed that without the doctrine of sovereign providence prayer was futile. It was more biblical and logical to posit that God predestines the means of prayer as well as the end of fulfillment, than to argue that prayer is profitable if God is not able to fulfill our requests. Though this is not the only reason to pray, it is a part of it, and what the Lord commands us to do, with confidence and thanksgiving.

The Institutes

In his Institutes, Calvin’s chapter on prayer is in fact the longest, eventually leading to a thorough exposition of the Lord’s Prayer. The first thing that Calvin emphasizes is the need for biblical saving faith (Ibid., 850-851). He then listed six reasons why prayer is not superfluous, and which act as prerequisites to biblical prayer. Firstly, we need a holy zeal to seek him with our love and service. Secondly, that anything unholy or distracting must be removed. Thirdly, that we come with an attitude of gratitude. Fourthly, that we approach the Father with confidence because we seek only that which is conducive to his will, as we find it in his word. Fifthly, that we delight in the answers given. Finally, that we give thanks that he has chosen in this way to fulfill his promises to his people (852).

Calvin then posits four rules, or what Wendel rightly calls an ‘attitude’ expressed with four conditions for its propriety. Echoing the second prerequisite above, we must be vigilant to have our minds disengaged “from all carnal solicitudes and cogitations” (Ibid., III.20.5, Wendel, 254). Wendel suggests that since there may be a danger of one viewing Calvin’s four rules in a purely human fashion, Calvin was mindful to turn to the necessary inspiration of the Spirit (Ibid., Inst. III.XX.855). Secondly, that “we must pray at all times” (Ibid., Wendel 254). “’The longing to see the coming of the Kingdom of God and his name glorified’ are all reasons sufficient to justify continual prayers.” (Wendel, 255) It is a mistake to only pray when one is in the mood. (Ibid., 857 Cf. Pss. 32:6; 94:19)

“Thirdly, “’that all those who present themselves before God in prayer divest themselves of all fantasies about their own glory.” (Ibid.) Calvin also wrote of humbly seeking penance (Ibid., 859) Again, it is important to see this word in its historical context. As Luther and others also pointed out, penance, like faith, is not a work that we are then rewarded for exercising, but rather Calvin is quick to guard the biblical doctrine of repentance, so that all is of grace, with no merit if our own. Thus, seeking forgiveness is the most important part (Ibid., 860), with no pleading based on our own merit (861) Finally, trust in the fulfillment of the LORD’s promises is needed. “To ask him for what we do not expect that he will wish or be able to give us is to provoke God to anger. 

Another important emphasis in Calvin concerning prayer is his doctrine of the covenant. “As the covenant begins with a solemn article containing the promise of grace, faith and prayer are required above all things, to the proper keeping of it.” (Lillback, 267). Lillback observed that Calvin saw the covenant motif in the Lord’s Prayer. The two members of Jeremiah 31 are contained in the Prayer, with two graces in the final two petitions. In the plea for forgiveness (Mt. 6:12), we find the two members of the law in the heart, and mercy in forgiveness, coupled with the protection of the Spirit as our aid (Jer. 31:33). Remembering the covenant enables his people to enjoin and entreat the LORD with confidence. Only his covenantal people are able to appeal to the promises of the covenant, while apostates do so in vain (Ibid. 268 Cf. Inst.III.XX.7,14,25 at 631, 639, and 650-651).

Our prayer, then, as in Matthew 21:22, will have to take faith as its guide. For there is no prayer that is pleasing to God but that which proceeds from such an assumption of faith and is founded upon such a certitude of hope.” (Ibid., Inst. III.20.4-12) In addition to his emphasis on the Spirit of God, and a teaching in close association with the doctrine of the covenant, is Calvin’s emphasis upon our union with Christ. Furthermore, the context involved passing on an inheritance of faith to the next generation, so that the saints commonly refer back to their fathers with whom the LORD had covenanted with in the past, looking ahead to their time. 

These all find their fulfillment in Jesus the Christ. “Now, since we have the Lord Jesus, in whose hand the everlasting covenant of mercy is not only made but confirmed to us, then whose name should we rather put forward in our prayers.” (Ibid., 269) Again, it is important to note the historical context that Calvin is interacting with. Rome had posited the belief that we should appeal to Mary or the saints who are past, as though we needed their intermediary compassion to hold sway with the Lord. Calvin responded to this with the biblical teaching that the Lord bids us to come to him directly, that his mercy is offered to us in the same way as it was to the saints who are now in his presence.

One particular aspect of the covenant which Calvin wanted to emphasize, and one that emphasizes God’s grace, is the importance of the promises contained therein. “And we ought carefully to observe the word covenant, by which the Prophet points out the greatness and excellence of this promises; for the promises are more extensive, and may be regarded as the stones of the building, while the foundation of it is the covenant, which upholds the whole mass.” (Ibid., 269 Cf. Isa. 59:21, VIII, iv, 270; CO XXXVII, XV, 351-353) Furthermore, it is the promises of the covenant of grace that gives God’s people their assurance” (Ibid., 269-270), for the promises are ratified and confirmed in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20), and sealed with his blood (Ibid. 270).

Inseparable from the covenant relationship and prayer in Calvin, as with Paul, is the doctrine of our union with Christ, through the Holy Spirit. John’s record of the so called ‘high priestly prayer’ is grounded in this union. At the time this was a doctrine that had been buried every bit as much as justification by faith, but one that also figures prominently in Paul and other of the biblical writers. “Put in simple terms, the doctrine of union with Christ teaches that the Holy Spirit joins believers to Jesus by faith, and that by virtue of this spiritual bond we receive both Christ Himself and all his benefits.” (Ryken in Ed. Parson, 191)

Catechal Instruction

In addition to the Institutes, the subject of prayer, and the Lord’s Prayer in particular also figure prominently in Calvin’s Geneva Catechism. Prayer is the third part of what Calvin deemed essential for every believer, following upon faith in Christ and the obedience consonant with the law. Again, he seeks to reject the place given by Rome to deceased saints as intermediaries, although he affirmed that the assistance of living saints was most valuable (235-238). At #239 Calvin affirms what is called ‘The Regulative Principle of Worship’ which holds that we are only permitted to include in our worship that which is specifically commanded, unlike Luther who believed that anything was allowed that was not specifically forbidden. To this end he stated that words may not be necessary, but that prayer does require understanding and the heart.” (241) It is with sincerity of heart that we are to lay claim to his covenantal promises (241). 

Words alone are not enough (242). Our disposition must be one of humility concerning our poverty, fully acknowledging that the Lord alone is able to provide. (243-244) Indeed, in the Lord’s Prayer we are to pray daily for his forgiveness, and practice the same. Calvin saw six petitions, three focused on the Father, and three focused on our relationship with others, while all are of course to our benefit. There is no room to treat of the whole of Calvin’s teaching on the Lord’s Prayer, either in the Institutes or the Geneva Catechism, and much of it is not unique from a historically Reformed perspective. However, there are a couple of items that are unique to Calvin and those of us who follow with him in the apostolic  tradition. The question is asked, “What do you understand by the Kingdom of God.” (Cat. #268) 

He answered that “It consists chiefly in two things that governs the elect, by his Spirit, and he destroys the reprobate, who obstinately refuse to give up themselves in obedience to him that it may be manifest to all that there is nothing able to resist his power.” Despite the reality of the reprobate, Calvin taught that it is to be the primary focus of the LORD’s people to pray “that the Lord would daily increase the number of believers, that he would enrich them constantly with fresh gifts of his Spirit until they shall be perfected. Moreover, that he would render his truth more luminous, and his righteousness more manifest, by scattering the darkness of Satan, and abolishing all iniquity.” (270)

Furthermore, concerning his will he wrote “That all creatures may be in submission to him and so depend on his pleasure that nothing may be done but by his will.” (271) Calvin was determined to go as far as scripture would lead him and no farther, and this is why he so clearly taught a biblical postmillennial vision of the power of the word to effect God’s will on earth as it is in heaven, with the ministry of the Spirit. This must be a view of the extent of our work, and what it means to be a disciple of Jesus the Christ, not satisfied until the knowledge of the Lord covers the earth as the waters cover the sea (Ps. 57:5; Hab. 2:14).

It is also significant to note that Calvin rejected the idea that the gift of tongues or languages continued. He was emphatic that there was no place for supposed prayer in an unknown language that has no impact on the understanding. That is nothing else, then trifling with God. Therefore, such hypocrisy should be removed from Christians (Catechism, #247). Singularity of heart means praying with confidence, if we are asking according to his will (Ibid., 248-249)We are to pray for the fulfillment of his promises acknowledging the reality that he is our all- sufficient Father, and that we pray in Jesus name alone (250-252). For Calvin, prayer must be lawful, that is, praying according to God’s will for us in his word, and this then leading to his treatment of the Lord’s Prayer (253-256). 

There is another emphasis in Calvin which in part was due to the hegemony of Rome and its teaching. Calvin taught that the whole church needs forgiveness, that none merit salvation, nor is there a purgatory that saints gone by can somehow aid those who follow in spending some of their merit for reduced time there (281). On the other hand, Calvin did see a place for living helpers in the church to aid us in our growth, including assisting us in the matter of prayer. The overarching point in the Lord’s prayer, and indeed in all prayer, is that it be in accord with God’s will as we find it in his word.

Other Writings

In his ‘Truth For All Time’ Calvin wrote what he had originally intended for the Institutes, namely “a brief outline of the Christian faith,” to be followed by his catechism. However, since the Institutes became what it is today, this little booklet took its place. In his teaching on prayer, in this introduction, he stressed firstly, the necessity of prayer (49-50). Secondly the meaning of prayer, which he gave with two points from scripture – “invocation (or request) and thanksgiving.” (51 Cf. Ps. 50:15), laying his greatest emphasis on the Lord’s Prayer (52-59). Finally, he stressed the need to persevere in prayer. The main point to draw on is that prayer be according to God’s word, and accepting of his sovereign providential will. “We let ourselves be governed by the good pleasure of divine providence. In fact, even if we have to go without everything, God will never abandon us.” (60-61)

Calvin’s Prayers Surrounding His Scriptural Exposition

Before moving on to Calvin’s treatment of the Lord’s Prayer, it is helpful to look at his prayers associated with his preaching of the word. The following was his common prayer which he uttered before his expositions. “May the Lord grant that we may engage in contemplating the mysteries of his heavenly wisdom with really increasing devotion, to his glory and to our edification.” (Edwards, 9) One can see four parts to this prayer, which very much reflect Calvin’s overall theology.

Firstly, Calvin’s favourite introductory word was ‘grant’, no doubt because he firmly believed that we only have what we have because the Lord grants it. Secondly, the goal was to have a greater understanding of the mysteries which the Lord may choose to reveal. Furthermore, Calvin understood that the goal was more than intellectual apprehension, for he prayed thirdly, that such knowledge must lead one to greater devotion. Finally, the primary motive was God’s glory and our accompanying edification. Calvin knew that for some the word would condemn them on the day of reckoning, but his goal was the former.

It is also important to note that Calvin had more specific criteria for his praying after his exposition, for he sought to pray for the application and fulfillment by the Lord’s people, of the truths just expounded. In no way ought the concluding prayer be of a common or generic nature. Since the Lord deemed it necessary to give us the whole of the biblical canon, each passage must therefore have something unique to say, or important enough to repeat. 

In Conclusion

Piper and Mathis note well the core of Calvin’s perspective on prayer. “Calvin believed that the Scriptures, especially the Psalms, teach us to combine prayer with our meditations on the promises and providences of God. Calvin therefore linked the doctrine of providence to prayer, stating that prayer was the way to keep trusting in God even in the most bitter afflictions-be it physical or spiritual.” (46) It may be fitting to conclude this brief study with a prayer of Calvin’s, which he wrote in concluding his treatment of the imprecatory Psalm 10:11-18, for he firmly believed that these Psalms were every bit as consistent with the new covenant as are all the rest, as calling for judgment not on personal enemies per se, but God’s enemies as pointed out in his word. 

“It should always be observed, that the use of praying is, that God may be the witness of all our afflictions; not that they would otherwise be hidden from him, but when we pour our hearts before him, our cares are hereby greatly lightened, and our confidence of obtaining our requests increases. Since it is the peculiar province of God to take cognisance of all wrongs, David says that it is impossible for God to shut his eyes when the ungodly are wrecklessly and without restraint committing their outrages.” (Heart Aflame, 22) Amen, so be it!

Works Consulted.

Calvin, John. Institutes, Vol. 1 Ed. McNeil Trans. Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, MCMLX)

___________Geneva Catechism, Ed. Joshua Torrey (Bolton: Amazon.ca [Grace For Sinners Books] 2017).

___________Heart Aflame (Philipsburg, N.J.: P & R, 1999).

___________Truth For All Time, (Edinburgh: Banner Of Truth, Trans. Stuart Olyott 2020 [1998]).

Lillback, Peter A. The Binding of God (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001).

McKim, Donald K. Everyday Prayer with John Calvin (Philipsburg, N.J.: P & R, 2019).

Parsons, Burk Ed. John Calvin, A Heart For Doctrine & Devotion, (Lake Mary, FL.: Reformation Trust, 2008).

Piper, John, Mathis, David. With Calvin in the Theatre Of God, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010).

Wendel, Francois. Calvin, Origin and Development of His Religious Thought. Trans. Philip Mairet (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997 [1950]).

Wileman, William. John Calvin: His Life, His Teaching, And His Influence, (Louisville: GLH Publishing, 2019 [1909]).

Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses 

“This unbridled preaching of indulgences makes it difficult even for learned men to rescue the reverence which is due the pope from slander or from the shrewd questions of the laity.” (81) This thesis helps sum up the content of the 95. Although the primary concern was the indulgences, they served to express a collection of beliefs and issues very important to Luther in the context of the beginning of his transformation. The larger context was Germans seeing their resources going to a foreign power while needs were great at home.

They were the subject of “unbridled preaching,” with the rash and grandiose claim of acquiring pardon thereby, with preachers acting like salesman. Luther condemned their actions as reflecting badly on the pope, about whom he also has some unpleasant things to say. The situation was a challenge to learned men seeking to address the concerns of the laity. These preachers were guilty of planting tares among wheat, with the doctrine of purgatory (11), which Luther argues was only created to justify the indulgences, which were preached as delivering souls from it (27-28).

They were contrary to both reason and the scriptures. By “full remission of all penalties the pope means not actually “of all” but only of those imposed by himself.” (20 cf. 25) The pope alone had power over it, even though, contrary to what was claimed by Rome, he did not possess the keys (25-26; 75-76). This is an astounding statement, sometimes missed by those who focus strictly and only upon the sale of the indulgences. At other times Luther seems more favourable still to the pope. Comments like that found at 38, 47-50, 61, 71 and elsewhere, show us Luther’s transition.

Behind all this there is Luther’s desire to answer the question as to how a soul is saved from perdition (32). True salvation was through repentance and not penance or indulgences (36-37). Giving to the poor and needy trumps the buying of pardons (43-45). He could not be clearer than he was at 52 – “the assurance of salvation by letters of pardon is vain.” The preachers were spending more time preaching, that is, selling the pardons, than in teaching the people the word of God (54). “The true treasure of the Church is the Most Holy Gospel of the glory and grace of God.” (62 cf. 68)

There was equal condemnation of the preachers of the indulgences (79-80), and the pope (82), all desirous of building a magnificent cathedral, with some payment for their services, a monument to the pride of the Papal See (83). These were false prophets (92), saying “Cross, cross” when there was no cross (93). It was the preaching of the cross that was Luther’s real burning desire, and so it should have been for the pope and his preachers. The indulgences were as nets, drawing people to purgatory, while the Gospel of “the grace of God and the piety of the cross,” (64-68) was a proclamation of remission.

Augustine on Free Will and God’s Foreknowledge.


The issue is expressed by Evodius in his discussion with Augustine in On Free Choice of the Will, with the question – “Isn’t God the cause of evil?” (Cahn 374) Immediately Augustine drawsa distinction between one who commits evil, and one who suffers evil. The former is moral evil or sin, whereas the latter is what one suffers. There could be any number of reasons for the latter, but these all come back to the primary former problem of moral evil. Augustine first highlights the basic presuppositions brought to the question, and based on these he argues that free will can be compatible with God’s foreknowledge, provided one is clear about the meaning of the terms used, and that revelation takes precedence over reason alone.

Basic Presuppositions.

There are certain basic presuppositions which Augustine posits, leading into these questions, which set the table for his replies. The first one to note, which is part of what is his epistemology, is found at Isaiah 7:9, namely that, “Unless you believe, you will not understand.” (375, 379) One must begin with a belief in revelation, that there are certain mysteries that only God knows, but nevertheless, he reveals to humanity what we need to know, that one might live for him (See Dt. 29:29). It is also important to note that Augustine equated belief with faith, that the latter is in no way contrary to reason or rational understanding and explanation. Therefore, he welcomed the questions, since he himself had been struggling with the problem of evil for many years.

Other biblical presuppositions are the goodness of God, and that he created all things, including humanity, as good. He rejected the Manichean belief in two equal powers – good and evil, which flatly contradicts the biblical revelation. “If you know or believe that God is good – and it is not right to believe otherwise – then he does no evil.” (374) Furthermore, “if we acknowledge that God is just – and it is impious to deny it – then he rewards the good and punishes the wicked.” (374). The second definition of evil above, as what some suffer, at least provides some explanation for some of this “suffering”, since it may be judgment on evil doers, or discipline for saints. Further, God is also sovereign. “We believe that this world is governed by divine providence.” (374) Finally, some suggest that the additional presupposition of God’s omniscience is in part an answer to the first question. Based upon these beliefs the problem arises as to how one might explain the presence of evil, moral evil or sin in particular.

The Cause Of Moral Evil Or Sin Expressed In Two Questions.

 “How is it that these two propositions are not contradictory and inconsistent: (1) God has foreknowledge of everything in the future; and (2) We sin by the will, not by necessity?” (382) Augustine believed that the cause of moral evil or sin, was with humanity in Adam as our representative, choosing to disobey the command not to eat from the one tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:15-17; 3:17-19). This decision must have been voluntary, otherwise the punishment that followed could not be justified. However, the question is then posed as to why God would create a being capable of choosing evil, “since if we had not received it, we would not have been able to sin.” (377) To this Augustine replied that because they/we were free to also choose the good, and that God rewards the choosing of the good, then there would be no free expression of a human’s love for God or others, if in fact they/we were compelled. Since free will is needed to choose the good, this is a “sufficient reason for God to give it.” (378) Therefore, God cannot be held culpable, since they/we were free to choose the good instead of the evil. However, the problem still remains as to how one can believe in God’s omniscience, and human will free.

Free Will and Foreknowledge.

The first question above seeks to get at the ultimate source of evil, and if humans have free will, how can God have foreknowledge of everything. Augustine answers by analogy to one person knowing what another person is going to do before they do it, which also does not make them the cause of such action, in this case, should it come to pass. That there is no doubt that God knows infallibly, does not make him anymore the ultimate cause either. “Thus, we believe both that God has foreknowledge of everything in the future and that nonetheless we will whatever we will.” (383) However, since we can only choose the good after regeneration, Augustine will proceed to show how grace is thus necessary for any, that even faith is a gift (Eph. 2:8-9). In regards to the first question then, God’s foreknowledge is no more the cause of sin, then another human knowing that someone will sin is the cause of that sin. “If you knew that someone was going to sin, he wouldn’t sin necessarily, would he? (384) “Sin is committed by the will, not coerced by God’s foreknowledge.” (384)

God’s Omnipotence. 

There is yet another proposition which comes into play, which Augustine tries to address in his other works, and that is how one reconciles free will and the problem of evil, given that God is also omnipotent. In other words, since God knows that sins will be committed, he either is helpless to do anything about it, or he is all-powerful, but unwilling. Since it is not possible for God to desire evil, and he is all-powerful, the problem would appear to go much deeper. One might take the example of predictive prophecy, the fulfilment of which was a sign of a true prophet. How is such a thing possible unless God predestines the fulfillment, especially when it is believed that God is ultimately behind the prediction? If someone replies we may be willing, but are not able, Augustine responds with what he considers the full definition of what the will is. “It could not be a will unless it were in our power.” (383) Given that God’s foreknowledge is infallible, and his power is greater than any human’s power, many do not see how these propositions can be compatible. Yet, as we have also seen, Augustine and others believe that they are compatible.


This is where Augustine’s doctrine of predestination comes into play. Some believe that the idea of free will absolves God of being the cause of evil, and that he only predestines what he foreknows. However, it is not hard to realize that this is putting the cart before the horse, so to speak. Paul wrote that God foreknows all things because he predestines all things. Predestination is inseparable from foreknowledge (Rom. 8:29-30). Paul argues that before Jacob and Esau were born, or had done any good or bad, he predestined whatever would come to pass. It is ludicrous to argue that his predestination was/is based on what he foreknew, since if humans were free in this sense then God would not foreknow. John makes the point that those who are born again, that is, regenerated, are “born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (1:13)


Some want to suggest that God’s atemporality, that is, that he is not bound by time, is somehow an answer to this problem. One may note Augustine’s treatment of God and time in his Confessions. However, this aspect of who God is misses the point set out in the scriptures, that God is sovereign, and that he condescends, as it where, to speak to us in the temporal context that he created, in order to show that he is sovereign. It means that God is able to use that which is evil, for his own good purposes. There is the famous story of Joseph who suffered under the evil behaviour of his brothers, and how his faith allowed him to take a different attitude toward them. “You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day.” (Gen. 50:20) Even the crucifixion of Jesus had the same dynamics at work. Speaking to his fellow Jews, Peter delivered the following verdict. “Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death.” (Acts 2:23) God could have stopped them, but instead he permitted them to follow their free choice. The foreknowledge was based upon his “determined purpose,” not vice versa. Without God’s grace, humans have free will, but it is only free to do evil, but even so, God is able to use such decisions and accompanying actions for his own sovereign purposes.


I, like Calvin, find substantial agreement with Augustine on the issue of God’s foreknowledge, and humanity’s free will. Frankly, it is a subject which cannot be comprehended properly without first accepting the biblical presuppositions concerning both God and humanity, and the radical nature of the fall. Before the fall, Adam had the freedom to do either good or evil, and we in him chose the evil of thinking that we could be equal with God. After the fall, humans without God’s grace of regeneration, are free only to choose evil. Nevertheless, God is able to permit evil for the sole reason of it accomplishing his sovereign purposes. Many certainly object to this understanding of things, but it does not mean that the argument is not a rational one, based on the premises chosen, the source of which is the revelation given.

Works Cited.

 Augustine, City of God (Garden City, N.Y. Image Books, 1958).

________, Confessions (Markham: Penguin Books, 1982).

Augustine, “On Free Choice of the Will” [Cahn, Steven M., ED. Classics Of Western Philosophy (Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett, 2012)]. 374-389

________, A Treatise On The Predestination Of The Saints. The First Book, 428 or 429. https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/sdg/pdf/augustine_predest.pdf

Gonzalez, Justo L. The Story Of Christianity Vol. I (New York: Harper One, 2010).

Pang, Ann A. “Augustine on divine foreknowledge and human free will.” Revue des Etudes Augustiniennes, 40 (1994) 417-431.